GOP delegate FAQs

I’ve seen Facebook posts, tweets, and mail from readers about a conundrum currently facing some Tennessee voters who’d like to have a say in their party’s presidential nomination, but aren’t sure exactly how, so I’m putting together a FAQ post. Disclaimer: I don’t yet have all the answers, so part of the purpose here is to seek information from those in the know. Amendments are most welcome.

Last week we covered the basics, but there is more to learn about this process. The main cause for questions at this point is the fact that a major candidate does not have any committed delegates on the ballot. Supporters of that candidate are wondering what to do.

Q1. What does it mean when the ballot says that a delegate will be “committed” to a particular candidate?

A1. It means that the person, when he or she signed up to run to be a convention delegate, indicated an intent to nominate one of the candidates. At the convention, that delegate would be required to vote for their candidate through two rounds of voting. After that, if their candidate is not still in the running, they may vote for another candidate.

Q2. So “uncommitted” must mean that the person wants to be a delegate to the convention, but they will wait to see how all the state primaries and caucuses and debates and scandals shake out, then cast votes for whomever they think should get the nomination at that point. Right?

A2. Yep, that’s right. An uncommitted delegate chooses to wait to be persuaded by factors leading up to and at the convention.

Q3. Do I have to vote for 14 at-large delegates, or can I vote for fewer or none?

A3. You may vote for up to fourteen at-large delegates, or fewer, or none at all. Likewise, you may vote for up to three congressional district delegates. It’s up to you. The rules say that 58 are going, and that 41 of those are chosen by voters. If you don’t vote, that means that other voters are selecting that list of 41. You can have a say in picking seventeen (14 at-large and 3 district).

Q4. If Rick Santorum doesn’t have any committed candidates, can he win the nomination in Tennessee?

A4. Technically, no candidate will win the nomination in Tennessee, as the nominee is chosen by the national convention delegates. That said, it does not appear likely that Santorum will have many delegates on paper after Tennessee votes. However, the state party’s Executive Committee chooses the other half (fourteen) of the at-large delegates, and it would seem that, were Santorum to win a significant percentage of the preferential votes, they would select delegates from among his supporters. (See Q9.)

The delegate races don’t have any bearing on the preferential primary, though. It is certainly possible for any of the candidates listed to win the highest number of votes.

Q5. If I vote for an uncommitted delegate candidate, what happens to my vote if that delegate commits to a candidate I don’t want?

A5. Nothing happens to your vote. You’re not voting for whom that uncommitted delegate will eventually choose, but simply for that person to be a delegate. If the person ends up being selected to attend the convention, as a delegate or as an alternate, you’d have to track the convention activity pretty closely to figure out whether or not they supported your preferred candidate. (As in, you’d have to be on personal communication terms with that delegate.)

Q6. How did these delegate candidates get committed already, and why would they commit so soon?

A6. Ah, the answer here lies somewhere between politics and perfect timing, neither of which is an exact science (but don’t tell political scientists or Swiss watchmakers that). Delegate candidates are recruited by leaders in state and local parties, whether elected or otherwise, and often those recruiters are donors to a presidential campaign, or are vying to be state co-chairs and such.

In terms of the “so soon,” the Legislature did move Tennessee’s primary back a few weeks, but the delegate recruitment process probably started at its usual time. Add to that the volatility we’ve seen in this race, and you have the conditions for what we are seeing now: a top-tier candidate with no one signed up to be his delegates on the ballot; and plenty of delegate candidates for bygone presidential contenders (such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry).

Q8. What happens to names that I write-in? Can I pick people I know would vote for a particular candidate at the convention and write them in?

A8. As I understand it, write-in votes would have to have enough broad support from voters across the district or state to beat names that were printed on the ballot, in order to be selected. The write-in option works just like it does in elections for public office: they are there to provide a voter the means to record his or her choice, if that choice is not listed. Write-in campaigns are quite difficult to win, but it’s possible.

Q9. (This is my question.) What exactly happens when the state’s voters choose a (partial) slate of delegates that differs radically from the same voters’ choice of presidential candidate? Is it likely that the State Executive Committee will have to undergo a series of political machinations that ultimately risk overriding voters’ delegate choices?

A9. Any takers?

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